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Costs Bring End to Speaker Series

Costs Bring End to Speaker Series

By Jonathan Bym, EditorPhoto by Elizabeth White

Prominent thought leaders from all over the world once paced the stage at the Givens Performing Arts Center for 12 years as a part of the Distinguished Speaker Series, but due to university budget cuts and other circumstances this program has been stopped.

Rising prices

The Office of Student Involvement and Leadership was the last office to oversee the series, but cuts along with a change in focus for the office and rising speaker prices have caused the downfall of what was once a flourishing program for the university.

“It’s a matter of finances. What we were spending on speakers my first year here was a third of the office budget,” Student Involvement and Leadership Director Mike Severy said.“The repurposing of the office to move away from a pure student activities approach to an involvement and leadership approach we had to refocus our funds.”

Big names

Starting during the 2000-2001 school year, the Distinguished Speaker Series brought speakers like Bill Nye, Dr. Maya Angelou, Dick Vitale, Nicholas Sparks and Ralph Nader to campus to speak.

The last event took place during the 2012-2013 year, when Olympic gold medalist Gabby Douglas was the only speaker.

From its start, to the 2009-2010 school year, the series brought four speakers a year. Over the final two years of the series, the number of speakers fell to two speakers and then one.

“Our budget hasn’t been cut, but it hasn’t gone up and speaker fees are going up and the role of this office has expanded,” Severy said. “It became cost-prohibited to have four or five speakers a year.”

The dilemma

Another issue faced by the office was trying to find speakers to come that students would recognize that would have a beneficial story, Severy said.

“It is expensive to get speakers here that our students would recognize,” he said. “The people that students see in mainstream media and social media as the it people, the university can’t afford…there’s an affordability range for UNC Pembroke that is our niche.

“It would be really cool to have these big name speakers or musicians or bands come in.

We can frankly do that, but it comes with a price, and I’m not sure students are willing to pay that price,” he said.

Midway through the series’ tenure, Student Involvement and Leadership helped transform the series from just an auditorium lecture into an interactive event with the speaker like dinners.

Many times speakers were encouraged to come early and come to classes with students, but very few actually did, According to Severy.

“Our office transitioned the series to be more student-centric,” Severy said. “We tried to morph it into a thing where students got more touch time with these people… People began to see these speakers as real people and not just talking heads on television.”

File photo by Elizabeth White. Corey Booker, left, who came as a part of the Distinguished Speaker Series on Sept. 28, 2011, talks with Chancellor Kyle R. Carter, Sarah Carter and Mike Severy.